Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 125: Los Muertos

Hope to somewhere in Chaves County. 21.1 miles/2375.8 total

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

9:40 a.m. I walk out from the Hope Quick Stop, heading west on US 82 again for 21.1lonely miles, to a spot in front of a ranch somewhere in Chaves County.

Another cloudless day, with the temperature around 55, going up to the high 60s. At the moment the wind is blowing toward me from the west.

Today’s walk will be along the most sparsely inhabited stretch of road I’ve been on so far, with the possible exception of Borden County, Texas. There will be no towns or villages, and precious few intersections. Just hilly grasslands. And fairly light traffic. People do live and work around here—the cattle that graze along the fences must live somewhere—and I occasionally see houses set far back from the road, but there are times when I feel completely alone.

Lupe, at the Quick Stop, gave me a friendly send-off this morning when I went in to tell her I was leaving my car there for the day, telling me to be careful. And careful I will be.

Today is election day, and before I start getting pessimistic and critical I’ll share a little joke with you. A guy from the U.S. was talking to a Chinese guy, and he was challenging him a little on the state of democracy in the People’s Republic. He asked him, “So, how often do you have elections in China?” At first the Chinese guy looked puzzled, then suddenly he smiled. “Oh, elections! I wake up with an election evely morning!”

Appropriate story, because we’re all about to get screwed. Going into today they’re predicting that the GOP will take over the House of Representatives, but the Democrats should hold on to the Senate. The voters are “angry,” we’re told. Well, the Republicans have been angry ever since they lost in 2008, and they’ve got their well-oiled propaganda machine working overtime to convince the American public, stupid as ever, that the unemployment problem is somehow the fault of the current administration. I know people have short memories, but does everybody in this country have Alzheimer’s disease, for God’s sake? Isn’t this the same unemployment problem that got the Republicans thrown out of office two years ago? Old George Orwell would be scared shitless if he could see how completely his sinister vision has come to pass. The GOP and its corporate masters would have no trouble getting elected using the slogans “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” Especially the last one.

So next January we’ll probably have a House that will endeavor to dismantle the very few decent things the Obama administration has succeeded in doing in its tepid first two years. Well, as I always say, we get the government we deserve in this country. Reminds me of the lines in that song by Nine Inch Nails:

Bow down before the one you serve,
You’re going to get what you deserve.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also the Day of the Dead—el dia de los muertos. Unlike election day, it’s not a movable feast. Every November 1 and November 2, coinciding with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the Christian calendar, Mexicans and some Mexican-Americans remember their dead friends and relatives by building altars to them and leaving food and drink and other gifts for their souls at their graves. I heard several references to el dia de los muertos on the Spanish-speaking radio stations, but I couldn’t really tell what they were saying beyond that. This practice originated with the Aztecs, and maybe before that. Since all religions seek in some way to facilitate communication with the dead, either literally or by imagining that they know something about the afterlife, it’s no surprise that this ancient American tradition got seamlessly incorporated into Christianity.

I’ve been reading a little of the history of New Mexico from a 2007 copy of the New Mexico Blue Book I picked up in a store in Artesia last Saturday. I’m only up to about 1700, but a lot has happened already. I get the impression that the Spanish treated the native peoples—the Indians—a bit better than the English did in their part of the continent. At least at the official level they seemed committed to behaving decently. In 1504 Queen Isabella issued a decree that the Indians were not to be mistreated, and that they should be converted to Christianity. This echoed an edict from 1593 of Pope Alexander VI (who was a Spaniard of the Borgia family), in which he said the aboriginal peoples were to be Christianized and not harmed. Of course the Christianization part was a pretty stiff prerequisite, and I’m sure the Spanish didn’t hesitate to put the shits to any Indians who might have had the temerity to question the need to convert. More than anything (and I could be mistaken here) it seems as if the Spanish were not driven, in their dealings with the Indians, by a sense of racial superiority, as the English most certainly were. In fact, the great conquistador Hernando Cortez married the daughter of the Aztec king Montezuma, thus setting the standard for the mixing of Spanish and Indian blood that to this day characterizes the average Mexican mestizo. To be sure there is an insidious parallel tradition in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America to keep the ruling classes as white as possible. Still, the policy of marrying the Indians, as the Spanish did in Mexico, rather than simply annihilating them or putting them in concentration camps, as we did in the U.S., seems the more humane course. More on New Mexico history in future installments.

A couple of miles into the walk I come upon a small herd of cattle, and try a little Warren Zevon on them, but they’re having none of it. The problem is that I started with Hank Williams, and they turned tail and trotted away from the fence. I should have led with Warren.

The chief difference between the terrain of yesterday’s walk up from Artesia and this one is that it is more hilly than not today. On the road there’s plenty of up and down, with the uphill climbs being longer. Out in the fields there are lots of chollas and prickly pear cactuses, and not quite as many yuccas as yesterday. Many of the chollas are full of yellow fruits, and the ones that aren’t probably have green fruits that match the color of the branches. And of course the prickly pears have their red and purple bulb-like fruits.

I come across a dead porcupine. I wouldn’t have been able to identify it as such, it was so far gone, but for a few tufts of quills. I think this is the first porcupine I've seen on the trip.

Not long after, I see two black garbage bags full of rotting meat, maggots still busy on it, and next to them the skinned skull of a deer, its antlers cut off. Then a few miles down the road I come across a deer pelt recently removed from the animal, the inside still wet and pliable, and next to it one of the rather large front legs of a deer. From its size I think it might be a mule deer. It takes me a few minutes to put it all together, but I can see that someone killed the deer, skinned it rather skillfully, then took what meat they wanted and threw the rest out, including the head. But first they skinned the head and kept the ears and antlers, no doubt for purposes of creating a trophy mount. The only thing I can’t figure out is why they felt the need to put the meat they didn’t want into bags. Why not just leave it by the roadside to be eaten? At any rate I think I’ll count this as road kill. What the hell, it was killed, and it’s on the roadside.

At 6.6 miles I leave Eddy County and enter Chaves County, whose county seat is Roswell. Chaves Country was named for Jose Francisco Chaves. He was a prominent New Mexican who was born into privilege in 1833 in what was then the Mexican province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico. He went to school in St. Louis and studied medicine in New York, then raised livestock in what had become the New Mexico Territory, and served eight terms as president of the Territorial Council. In the Civil War he enlisted as a major in the Union Army, and after the war served in the U.S. House of Representatives. After that he went back to New Mexico and occupied several posts in territorial government until being assassinated under somewhat mysterious circumstances in 1904, at the age of 71.

All day I’ve been swatting at little red-eyed flies with striped bodies. They land on me and stay with me. The only good thing about it is that they’re fairly easy to kill with my bare hands, not having developed especially quick reflexes. They’re probably not used to being on humans and land mostly on cows. My success in killing flies makes me think of a kid I went to elementary school with named Roger Martin, who filled the ink bottle in his desk with flies he caught with his bare hands. While the rest of us were trying to learn Spanish from Senora Lopez or sitting with our heads down on our desks listening to Mrs. Baumgartner read from Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Roger was doing something productive. I wonder that happened to him. Maybe Ted or Jim knows.

I think this is the most serene area I’ve been in. So quiet and devoid of signs of human habitation, except of course for the barbed wire topped fences and the road itself. Maybe before the Spanish came this was a foot path used by the Apaches in their nomadic travels between here and what is now Texas.

At 9.4 miles, I rest at the entrance to Cuahape Ranch Road, to get off my feet for the first time today. I usually don’t sit for more than three or four minutes at a time. At about 14 miles the terrain becomes much more hilly and rolling. The road rises and falls. The wind has picked up speed and is now out of the north again.

While I’m sitting on a rock a woman pulls over to offer me a ride, and we get to talking and she invites me to come for dinner and park the motor home by her house tonight. I accept, and a little while later she drives by again with two kids in the back seat and asks me when I think I’ll be over. She lives near mile marker 77, which is about eight miles west of Hope. That sounds like a perfect place to spend the night.

Finally, at 21.1 miles, right in front of the entrance to the Muerto Springs Ranch, I reach the motor home.

After picking up the car I go to the house, which happens to be on Cuahape Ranch Road, right where I sat and rested earlier. I'm welcomed by Diana Kie and her husband Robert, who, I learn, are both Apaches. They have two charming children, Robert, 10, and Kathrine, who is 12. While the kids did their math homework I ate a great meal and had an interesting chat. Robert used to be a tribal policeman on the Mescalero Apache Reservation a few miles west of here, and Diana moved to the reservation from California. Robert now teaches at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia. They lived in Artesia for awhile, but didn't like the pollution from the refinery, so they moved out here to the country.

I wish to thank them for their very kind hospitality and for their company this evening.

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